School closures, although necessary for their safety during the COVID-19 outbreak, deprive children of opportunities for learning and development. It is therefore important to strike the balance between children’s health and safety, and their right to education.
To address concerns regarding school openings, the Department of Education (DepEd) has developed the Basic Education Learning Continuity Plan (BE-LCP) that will be implemented for the school year 2020-2021, or beginning on August 24, 2020. The document contains different strategies that can be applied depending on the current resources, capacities, and public health conditions for each locality. Schools are encouraged to adopt distance learning approaches, depending on the modalities that will be relevant for their students. The ECCD (Early Childhood Care and Development) Council has also developed standards for home-based learning which can be easily facilitated by the parents.
While the opening of classes are crucial to children’s development, it may also put their health at risk if the proper safety protocols are not observed. Children may be exposed to the virus not only within school premises, but also on their way to and from their schools.
In light of these, we, the Joining Forces Alliance, support the continued learning of children with the opening of classes on August 24, provided that the following recommendations will be satisfied.
We urge the Department of Education to:
● Properly implement and monitor the BE-LCP in basic education schools and facilities, including the localization of implementation plans and that all said plans are operationalized in the school level.
● Plan and implement appropriate learning modalities depending on local contexts, especially for learners with issues in literacy and numeracy.
● Enhance teachers’ capacity to accommodate a variety of teaching modalities and strategies, including adoption of inclusive, participatory and out-of-the-box approaches for teaching and learning.
● Conduct mapping of students’ needs and capacities to inform the planning of appropriate learner-centered and gender fair learning modalities in the local level.
● Provide capacity development support to students’ parents/caregivers.
● Provide mental health and psychosocial support for learners, teachers, and parents/caregivers.
● Continue the implementation of DepEd Special Education Programs and consider the needs of children in difficult circumstances (such as those with disabilities, internally displaced, in conflict with the law, under the care of institutions, and residing in geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas) in the design of any learning delivery modalities based on the new normal measures.
● Ensure that all learners have the necessary tools and materials to cope with the learning delivery modality across all localities.
● Continue the implementation of DepEd Order #40 to ensure protection of children from violence and abuse, and create child safeguarding guidelines to protect learners in using online platforms, especially against the risk of cyberbullying and online sexual exploitation. This must also include the strengthening of child-friendly complaints and feedback mechanisms.
● Expand partnerships with civil society organizations (CSOs) and the private sector for the provision of financial and technical resources. Provide regular reports, updates, as well as sex- and age-disaggregated data, and other information so partners could help provide inputs to enhancing education programming.
● Include CSOs in Monitoring and Evaluation of DepEd Basic Education Learning Continuity Plan (BE-LCP), in accordance to Republic Act 9155, or the “Governance of Basic Education Act of 2001.”
● Review the utilization guidelines for the Special Education Fund (R.A. 5447) to make it more responsive to the learning requirements of the blended learning approach.
We call on the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Early Childhood Care and Development Council to:
● Enjoin day care centers to submit their learning continuity plans based on the appropriate learning delivery modalities.
● Invest in capacity building for digital skills and technology for early childhood development workers.
● Mobilize CSWDO/MSWDO staff to implement quality home-based programs, provide curated ECCD and parenting materials.
● Establish parent support groups, and incorporate psychosocial support to caregivers, their children, and ECD workforce as part of the response.
● Establish a guidance that will ensure pregnant and lactating mothers, infants, and young children will continue to receive the holistic early childhood services in their communities (i.e., pre and post natal care, immunization and vaccination, etc.)
We urge the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority to:
● Coordinate with DepEd and other agencies in the identification of industry partners and assessment centers for the Senior High School programs.
We recommend local government units to coordinate with DepEd Region and Division levels and schools to:
● Conduct COVID-19 testing for teachers who are showing symptoms or had exposure to COVID-19 patients.
● Appropriate Special Education Funds and Gender and Development Fund to support learners with disabilities and female students. Also maximize other available funding sources stated in the Local Government Code of 1991 (RA 7160) to aid in the learning continuity of children.
● Provide higher budget allocation for ECCD programs and services.
We also urge all parents and caregivers to:
● Ensure the safety of their children while learning at home.
● Support and assist in the learning of their children at home, especially for those who are undergoing distance learning.
About the Joining Forces Alliance
The Joining Forces Alliance on the Elimination of Violence Against Children is a global alliance of child-focused international non-governmental organizations. We are advocating for a renewed commitment of governments to achieve the rights of children. We are composed of ChildFund Alliance, Educo, Plan International, Save the Children, SOS Children’s Villages, Terre des Hommes International Federation, and World Vision.